UCLA struggled against USC, this week they battle the Washington schools

The USC Trojans had lost nine of their last 11 games and were entering a packed house on the UCLA campus of their cross-town rival before a loud, rowdy crowd last Saturday night. The UCLA Bruins had handed the Trojans one of those nine conference losses, a 65-50 embarrassing defeat at the Galen Center, the Trojans home court, a few weeks ago. The Bruins had won eight of their last 10 games and the sellout crowd of 13,659 fans at Pauley Pavilion was expecting a victory from the Bruins.

Despite an environment that would seem to be ideal to energize the home team, it was the visitors that came to play, knocking off the Bruins on their home court, 62-56. The Bruins came out flat in the first half and played uninspired basketball, and they trailed 33-19 with 5:41 remaining in the first half. Then they caught fire and with the help of the Trojan mistakes, went on a 15-1 run to tie the score at halftime.

The Trojans in the final 5:41 missed five of six free throws and committed two turnovers. The crowd cheered wildly as UCLA left the court. Then the Bruins came out for the second half and repeated their first half performance. The Trojans scored the first ten points of the second half while the Bruins were ice cold.

The loss dropped UCLA to 9-7 in the Pac-12 conference and 14-13 overall. They are currently tied for fourth place in the conference with Colorado. The top four teams get byes in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. The Bruins beat Colorado and hold the head-to-head advantage but need to win their final four games to assure a top four berth in the conference tournament.

Winning the conference tournament is the only way the Bruins can get into the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The Bruins are no longer on the NCAA bubble for an at-large berth and at a record of 14-13 are on they are also on the bubble for the NIT tournament, a tournament that they may not want to participate in.

"It's a simple game," UCLA's head coach Mick Cronin said after the USC loss. "The team that plays harder usually wins. They played much harder than us. They were more physical, they had humility, they came in here looking for redemption. We had no humility. Show me somebody that's not humble and I'll show you somebody getting ready to get humbled."

Cronin added, "We had our worst week of practice of the season. I failed miserably to get my team ready for the fight that was coming today and I'm thoroughly embarrassed. And I apologize to the people wearing the four letters. Yes, we really struggled making the open shots, but that has nothing to do with all the stuff I talked about. The team that wins the fight usually wins the game. And they won the fight in every way. We were awful."

In the first contest against USC at the Galen Center, UCLA point guard Dylan Andrews scored 20 points, had four assists and just one turnover. He outplayed USC point guard Boogie Ellis, who scored just eight points in the first game between the two rivals. Last Saturday's game, Ellis won the battle decisively, scoring 24 points while Andrews went scoreless, missing all seven shot attempts and committing five turnovers.

Guard Lazar Stefanovic, who went 1 for 7 on three-point shots and 3 for 13 overall, was at a loss to explain the lackluster performance of the Bruins.

We started the game slow, we kind of came back, with the energy going to our side," Stefanovic said. "Again, second half, we came out, and we started slow, without a fight, without energy. I don't know the reason for it. We knew they were going to fight because in the first game, when we beat them, we out-rebounded them, and we out-toughed them the whole night. We knew that they were going to be motivated with a response."

On top of the lack of consistent effort, the Bruins offensively continued to struggle. The Bruins are last in the Pac-12 in scoring, field goal percentage and assists. They are 11th out of 12 teams in three-point field goal percentage. They have a young squad that needs time to grow together, which means that they need to play hard to have a chance to win games.

With the win, the USC Trojans improved to 5-11 in the Pac-12 conference and 11-16 overall. Both USC and UCLA will go on the road to the state of Washington this week, with the Bruins arriving in Seattle on Thursday night, February 29th to play the Washington Huskies and the Trojans traveling to Pullman to take on the 19th ranked Washington State Cougars, also on Thursday Night.

On Saturday, March 2nd, the Bruins will travel to Pullman to meet the Cougars in a Saturday afternoon game at 4 p.m. The Trojans will travel to Seattle to take on the Huskies, also on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m.

The Trojans are playing for pride at this point, which they showed plenty of against the Bruins. They hope to finish the season strong. The Bruins, in the words of Stefanovic, need to "stay focused, win every game for the rest of the year." That is called shooting for the moon.

Both UCLA and USC will face the Arizona schools at home next week.


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